The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has removed more than 2,500 listings of adulterated products or products making false or misleading health claims from local eCommerce platforms such as Carousell and Lazada.
Called Operation Pangea, the removal of listings were part of an Internet-based enforcement action coordinated by International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) between 3 and 10 March 2020. During this week, HSA intensified its surveillance online to detect and disrupt the sale of illegal health products. Adulterated lifestyle products such as weight loss pills, sexual enhancement medicines and cosmetic products comprised more than 32% of the listings taken down.
During the investigations, HSA revealed that sellers attempted to evade detection by both HSA and the eCommerce platform administrators. As such,
Sellers advertised the products as common household brands of soaps and shampoos when in fact, the products were medicinal.
This year alone, HSA also detected a significant number of product listings claiming to prevent or treat COVID-19. These fraudulent products included health supplements, herbs, traditional medicines and “clip-on” products. The false and misleading claims made include “strengthen the immune system against the coronavirus” or “prevent and cure coronavirus”. According to HSA, there is currently no evidence that such products can prevent or treat COVID-19. The authority also said it has detected rapid test kits which claimed to be able to diagnose COVID-19 within 10 minutes.
However, testing for COVID-19 can only be done by clinical laboratories or medical professionals in clinics and hospitals to ensure an accurate test result and diagnosis. Product listings with false claims related to COVID-19 made up about half the total number of listings taken down by HSA. These fraudulent claims are not allowed and HSA said it will take actions against the sellers of these products. From 1 January to 10 March 2020, more than 1,100 unique seller accounts have been issued warnings on the regulatory requirements that they have to comply with.
Additionally, HSA’s investigations shed light on some individuals who were selling leftovers or unused health products such as steroid creams, antibiotic creams and painkillers. Many of these individuals were first-time sellers who claimed that they were unaware that such products are prescription medicines that can only be prescribed by doctors.
The sale of prescription medicines by individuals is an offence under the Health Products Act, according to HSA. Individuals found to be selling and supplying health products that are adulterated or carry misleading claims will be liable to prosecution and if convicted, may be imprisoned for up to three years and/or fined up to SG$100,000.